Human males have both a X and a Y chromosome but females have two X chromosomes. This means that in an early stage in the development of a woman’s fertilised egg the cells need to silence one of those two X chromosomes. This process is crucial to survival and problems with the process are related to serious genetic diseases.
Both X chromosomes in a cell have a suicide gene called XIST which, if activated, seals the chromosome behind a barrier of RNA preventing the activation of any other gene. Researchers believe that this suicide gene can be itself blocked by a plug of proteins forming on top of its specific location on the chromosome but they had little idea as to why this should happen randomly to one X chromosome’s gene and not the other.
Scientists are extremely uncomfortable with this randomness and have sought a clear scientific reason as to why one X chromosome was switched off rather than the other. The observations also seem to run counter to the usual idea that the biological mechanisms evolve in ways that allow a "best" choice to be made between things rather than a random one.
Now researchers led by University of Warwick physicist Dr Mario Nicodemi have explained how this randomness occurs and why that it is beneficial. This will help understand the problems of a small number of women who unusually don’t have a completely random distribution of X chromosomes but the explanation may have much wider implications as at least 10% of our genes may behave in similar ways as mechanism that "chooses" between X chromosomes. Examples of this range from the immune system to our olfactory apparatus.
Coming at the problem from the perspective of a physicist Dr Nicodemi has found an explanation for the random selection based on thermodynamics. Research has already shown that at the key moment in this process both X chromosomes are brought close together within the cell. The Warwick researcher paper says that what happens next is that material for a "protein plug" then begins to gather around both of the XIST suicide genes on each X Chromosome. This starts a race between the two build ups of protein. Inevitably one of these two nascent protein plugs narrowly wins that race and reaches an energy state in which it can pull together all the material building up in both plugs into a single protein plug. That single plug then closes off one of the XIST suicide genes allowing its host X chromosome to continue to operate. However the other XIST suicide gene is now freed to activate and shuts down its X chromosome.
Since putting forward this explanation researchers in Harvard have observed actual plugs of protein shutting down X chromosome XIST genes in a manner giving further confirmation to Dr Nicodemi’s research. So the randomness is explained but what about researchers’ other concerns? Dr Nicodemi believes the randomness actually does give an evolutionary advantage. The mechanism means equal numbers of both the maternal and paternal X chromosome are preserved in the gene pool and the resultant population thus has more chance of surviving any biological threat targeted at a single version of the X chromosome.
Peter Dunn | alfa
Discovery of a Key Regulatory Gene in Cardiac Valve Formation
24.05.2017 | Universität Basel
Carcinogenic soot particles from GDI engines
24.05.2017 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.
In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
17.05.2017 | Event News
24.05.2017 | Earth Sciences
24.05.2017 | Life Sciences
24.05.2017 | Life Sciences